Float away with Willis at State Bridge
BOND – Let your mind wander off the river and into far off grooves this weekend at State Bridge Lodge in Bond. Following the First Descents’ fourth annual Paddle-a-Thon fundraiser Saturday, the groove machine Willis starts up the party at 8:30 p.m. Get ready, ’cause these Boulder boys can jam and they don’t know how to stop.Since the band kicked off the venue’s opening weekend in May, Willis has been to the East Coast and back – twice. And as these guys know, when you live to play music you play music to live.”We travel in a truck, and it’s really cramped up and really uncomfortable,” said guitarist Pete Kartsounes formerly of Possum Logic. “And it’s expensive these days with gas being $2.40 a gallon. As an adult, you got to be able to pay those bills, too. That’s the challenge, to be able to tour. ” But, Kartsounes said, the band’s gotta pay its dues somehow.”It’s just a great cause getting your music out there and meeting a lot of new fans,” he said. “I’ll suffer for that.”Willis was born when Possum Logic broke up and Kartsounes met up with Boulder jazz trio Kyle Ussery, bass, Chris Rowland, keyboardist, and Jeremy Salken, drummer. The trio turned quartet has been on a musical binge ever since, rolling its jams into one taut sound.”Pete comes from the world of bluegrass, and rock and blues,” Ussery said. “He can hang with all the jazz stuff, too, so he brought more of a soulful element, which definitely helps connect with the audience. We’re definitely tighter now.”
In the midst of recording their second album, Willis started writing so much new material they needed to take a break from recording to let it flow. Kartsounes said he expects the studio record to be released by the end of the summer, but in the meantime the band has released “Live at Redfish” recorded at one of its recent shows at the Boulder bar.”We’ve been working muy muy muy hardo,” Kartsounes said. “We’ve been on the road, writing a lot of new tunes. Our new stuff’s been really well-accepted. Everything’s really upbeat and danceable.”They’ve played 20 shows in the last 24 days, and the group’s extensive cruise across the country has done more than paid the bills. It’s taught the guys to use their time wisely. When they know they have miles and miles of traveling ahead of them, they pop in a recording from the show the night before and critique their musical conversations. “Since we’re playing every night, we find these subtleties in all of the songs that we kind of like better,” Salken said. “The way I taught myself a lot of what I do is just by listening to other people playing. Why not listen to yourself?””We’ll listen to ourselves and critique what we do like and what we don’t like, and then correct those things,” Kartsounes said. “That’s some of the best practice that you get. I think listening to yourself play is really good.”When they’re not listening to their own music, the band listens to the sounds of greats such as Herbie Hancock and Martin, Medeski and Wood to help conjure musical inspiration. Willis’ Cajun groove tune “Cornbread” resulted from listening to Jeff Coffin Mutet, Kartsounes said. The band has also discovered while on the road that small, unfamiliar crowds can be a very good thing for their music.
“We don’t always get a giant crowd,” Rowland said. “But It seems there are always a couple people who connect with what we’re doing.””We’re experimenting so much, but we’re more experimental when there’s just a couple people in the crowd and we’re try and make the show special,” Salken said. “What I do is very improvisational. A lot of it is based on feel. When we write tunes, there’s a basic beat that I do but depending on the crowd I can change the mood. It makes the music tighter.” The band has been known to play sets lasting more than three hours. It’s easy to get carried way with Kartsounes’ breezy guitar licks and the band’s dreamy jams. You know they are. “It’s a great release. It doesn’t just take over the musicians, it takes over everyone in the room. It’s always going to be fresh when people are in front of you boogying it,” Kartsounes said. “Like the Grateful Dead, how could they ply the same songs for 30 years and still have fun? Probably because they had people dancing in front of them. People always say we look like we’re having a good time up there, and we are.”Willis finds the groove just as easily off stage. “We all get along really well and that really helps,” Kartsounes said. “We enjoy being around each other and I’ve been in bands where that wasn’t the case. The other bands that I’ve been in I would write the song or another guy would write the song and we’d come back and play. I’ve always wanted to be in a band where we all wrote the songs as a community. We’re allreally open to new ideas. We all take criticism. It’s like having a good relationship with a lover.”
Willis opened up State Bridge this year in what’s become somewhat of a tradition.”When we play State Bridge, it’s a party. I love playing there. I love the energy there. It’s always nice to walk into a place and take your keys out of the ignition and have nothing to worry about until you leave the next days or two days later. I hope the Paddle-a-Thon raises a lot of money. I’m really happy that we get to be a part of that,” Kartsounes said. “We’re all friends. We’re all family. You’re up in the mountains, and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s really organic. If the weather’s bad, we’ll take it inside.”For tickets, call 653-4444 or visit http://www.statebridge.com.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado